Lacking plot and character depth, King Arthur is nothing more than a watered-down fight scene that fails to capture the legend of the great Arthur and his valiant knights.
With a rating of PG-13, King Arthur embraces bloodless violence, which relies on crafty camera work that becomes jumbled and unappealing. A film that promised to demystify a legend and present a rough and realistic look at Arthur (Clive Owen) and the gang betrays itself by playing to the PG-13 crowd: Blood and guts was the reality during first-millennium combat, and director Antoine Fuqua did a disservice to his film by approaching it conservatively.
As for the aim of demystification, only a mature audience would be interested. Attendees at a PG-13 film are there for action sequences and battle, and a demystified Arthur is not the vehicle for that type of film. Legend and glory, from which the film seems to stray, contain many of the wanted battles and incredible feats not entirely prevalent in the film’s down-to-earth, raw storytelling. Because the filmmakers got their target audiences backward, they produced a film that will hold little interest for either the mature crowd interested in a gritty Arthurian tale or the audience that wants the classical myth of bravery and legendary feats chock full of shining swords and quick arrows.
Getting away from the usual legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Fuqua focuses on Arthur struggling with himself and his faith. The knights, at the beginning of the film, are under control of the Roman government, and expect to get their freedom papers after 15 years, but a Roman dignitary forces Arthur and his men to go on one more quest. The film then takes an expected turn at the end and Arthur’s free knights willingly go to battle with Arthur one last time for themselves alone.
What King Arthur does have is bold characters, but bold characters with little or no development. Stellan Skarsgard, who plays Cedric, leader of the Saxon army, is an interestingly dark character, but nothing is said about who he is, where he came from or what makes him tick; he is in essence a hollow nemesis for Arthur to slay.
The rest of the characters are very much the same, which leaves the film unsatisfying. The only exception to the rampant lack of development is Arthur, who relentlessly searches for his purpose in life throughout the film, which, in turn, sheds a lot of light on Arthur’s inner workings. This, however, is not enough to make the movie appealing, let alone fulfill the good-character quota.
Arthur is the main character and we see a lot of him, but the other personalities the audience will expect to see make fleeting appearances with little or no impact. The biggest disappointment is Merlin, who has a few lines and none of the immense powers usually associated with the great wizard. Guinevere (Keira Knightley) is also somewhat of a phantom, making her first appearance near the halfway mark of the movie, where she is a central character for a few minutes, only to slip into the background moments after that.
Despite the fleeting characters and the sketchy development, the acting was as good as anything to be seen this summer. Owen made Arthur’s quest for righteousness believable while Knightly proved she is more than just something pretty to look at. Ray Winstone did one of the best jobs in the film, portraying Bors, the comic relief in dreary Britain. Winstone pulled off the gruff-but-lovable Bors with a stellar performance.
A thousand-year-old myth about a king and his knights is not a very good rough-and-gritty topic. Racism in America or World War II seem to be better candidates for that sort of art; American History X and Saving Private Ryan were moving films that were as gritty as they come. Legends are not realistic or controversial; they are valiant heroes casting down vile enemies; they are implausibility and impossibility and they are larger than life and should stay that way.
The Knights of the Round Table are infallible warriors who should be depicted as such. Any film involving those characters should glorify them as heroes, not drag them down to mortal status. Go to the library and read about the legends of Arthur — not only will the experience be more enjoyable and fulfilling, but you will save yourself two hours as well.